T Nation

Subscapularis/Rotator Cuff Tear


So yesterday I was at my final set on bench and as I brought the weight down I heard a pop in my right shoulder and it instantly started hurting. I managed to rerack the weight but after that I lost a significant range of mobility in my right arm, and it still hurts. I saw a doctor at an urgent care later that day and he said I had a tear in my rotator cuff and possibly my long head bicep tendon.

My clinic is booked out so I have to continue to call every morning for an opening and hopefully they’ll take it seriously and get me an MRI and a proper diagnosis but I guess for now I’m reaching out to y’all for some confirmation and hopefully some support and guidance on what I can do next. Before yesterday I had a lot of promise in powerlifting and have been training to break more state records next year and hopefully start touching national records, and now I’m frustrated and disappointed. I know it isn’t the end, I’m young and strong and I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m already struggling with the fact that I can’t use my dominant hand to do pretty much anything.

I have a general dull ache at the front of my shoulder, but it pops and crunches if I try to lift my arm straight in front of my body (I can almost get my elbow to face height) I can’t move my arm straight across my chest without severe pain, and it’s difficult to move my arm at a diagonally, directly lateral, or backwards without pain, and I can’t move it above my head.

These issues have slowly improved over the last 24 hours, I’ve been icing it and keeping it as still as possible, taking ibuprofen and my doc gave me cyclobenzaprine, so I fear my improvement is just a side effect of being medicated, so I’m cautious to push my limits.

hopefully I get an appointment soon. But until then if any of you could give me some ideas of how to stay motivated and what you do to work out with one arm out. Luckily I don’t have any issues doing biceps/triceps, Deadlifts and leg press type stuff (I wish my gym had a safety squat bar) but I fear losing too much strength in my back and the rest of my body and having to start all over again, and I fear having muscle imbalance and other issues. Thank you in advance!


Unfortunate injury but long term, powerlifting being a game of years/decades after all, you’ll probably come back stronger with a new appreciation for shoulder health/prehab hopefully preventing a future re occurrence.

Pls stop fucking around with your shoulder: pushing limits, provoking symptoms, testing your flexibility and what not. Leave the testing to the professionals.

Best case this doesn’t make anything worse but I wouldn’t take the risk that you are causing further damage and setting yourself back a week with every aggravating movement.

At this stage you should attempt to protect the injured tissues/structures not worry about the range of motion is your shoulder. That comes later.

Fortunately raw powerlifting totals are built on the squat and deadlift unless you’re Kirill Sarychev or sumshit so there’s plenty of work you can still do.

While specificity may suffer in the coming weeks and months there is still ample opportunity to get bigger/stronger and worry about translating that to your competition lifts later. An accumulation or Hypertrophy phase while running a caloric surplus seems a good fit for your circumstances.

Here’s some ideas but remember between the three powerlifts there’s maybe a handful of muscles that aren’t involved. BIgger muscles potentiate strength. Get hooooge:

  • Smith machine if accessible can be very helpful to you: Squats, Good Mornings, Hip Thrusts etc. can be performed.

  • Machine work is also an option and with all that variety you should be able to find something e.g. leg press, hamstring curls

  • Belt Squat is a staple in many powerlifter’s programs even when injury free and will be effective for you.

  • Back Extentions and GHRs similarly are staples in powerlifting injured ot not.

  • Bit of cardio as horrible as it sounds will do you good in powerlifting and with your injury. My favourite is jumping on a stationary bike, spinning my legs at 100rpm and throwing on an episode of a TV Show. Time flies by.

Once you have proper diagnosis and have a set of precautions or contraindicated movements you can begin to test what else you can do.


Hey thank you! Yes I’m very much dedicated to not making the problem worse, when I say ‘test my limits’ I mean maybe twice a day I make an attempt to test my range of motion to see if they’ve changed, in the last 24 hours I’ve already seen an improvement but it’s definitely not with the intention of bearing weight or reinjury, just cautious curiosity. Now that I feel ill be in it for the long haul I’m not going to move it until I’m told to. I ought to put it in a sling, I have an ice pack shoulder brace thing I’m using and I wear it even when I’m not icing it if I’m moving around a lot just to remind myself to keep it still but since the doc didn’t suggest it I don’t know if it’d be overkill.
I went to the gym earlier today and figured out sort of what I’ll be able to do. Thank you for the ideas, super helpful, I forgot my gym has a smith machine and I’ve always wanted to start doing belted Squats and for some reason I never got around to it. I’m trying to get into the mindset of using this as an opportunity to challenge my body in new and different ways, I really want to curl up in a ball and cry all day.
Thanks again for the response! I’ll probably post an update once I get another appointment. My last doctor said MRIs are bullshit because “everyone can find something wrong with them on an MRI” so hopefully this one is less of an idiot.


No point unless you want sympathy points from every single person asking you what’s up.

Correction: *useful ways lel

Unless you are a fan of Westside or that conjugate voodoo probably more productive things you could do from a powerlifting point of view.

Don’t feel you need settle for anything less than progress on your other lifts during recovery.

Bigger prime movers translate directly to bigger lifts and one’s butt and thighs can’t be too big for powerlifting purposes or otherwise.

e.g. for quads start belt squatting, drive up weight/volume until you’re doing 20ish working sets a week. For glutes hip thrusts function similarly (rumor has it that you get more gains if you make eye contact with as many people for as long as possible)

While that is not exactly false it’s strange that a doctor would blatantly discourage an MRI given the circumstances.

Perhaps this doctor had ulterior motives e.g. saving money by avoiding an MRI. Tho you could just pay out of pocket so I don’t get what the deal is.


I suppose the only benefit of a sling is to prevent my job from asking me to do things outside of my physical limits (I work in aircraft maintenance so there are about twice as many ways to injure myself at work as there are in the gym), and also possibly prevent people from tackling or throwing things at me, which is also a common occurrence where I work(in good fun, of course) in that case the psychological play might be annoying but it would be effective. I’ll just wait until someone tells me to wear one anyway.

useful is definitely a better key word to put in there. Let’s just agree we’re on the same page in that regard, I’m not looking for any fluffy garbage. :blush: seeing as I can’t work my chest or shoulders right now I’m definitely going to step my booty game up, though people aren’t as creeped out about me doing hip thrusts, maybe it’s a girl thing :joy:

The last doc I had discouraged an MRI when I had sciatic-related pain that ended up being piriformis syndrome. His argument was basically “yeah we already know your leg hurts, so there’s no point in getting an MRI unless you wanted to find something else wrong with you”. My counterarguement is that it would be good to know once and for all if the injury causing my symptoms was spine related, or glute/piriformis related, which I like to believe would require very different forms of treatment. I’m in the military, my treatment is covered under my insurance but I bet they would have to refer me to a civilian hospital since I don’t think they have MRI machines at the clinic i go to, which would cost money and they’re probably told to discourage anything like that unless truly necessary. Powerlifting fixed my piriformis issue, BTW, so I’m not really trusting of a lot of docs and PTs I’ve encountered so far. Hence why I’m here, because they’ll tell me to stop working out altogether which is simply not going to happen.


Doctor: You’ll need to stop working out lest you cost us $1000s in medical imaging

just_try_harder: That’s a negative doc
giphy (1)


Exackaly. Sorry about your tax dollars😓

Update: I’ve regained almost full range of motion except forward across my chest, or forward upward rotation. I can bring my arm up laterally to my ear, but I cannot bring it down at the front, I have to bring it back down laterally as well. I’ve also noticed my affected shoulder hunches forward of my unaffected one when sitting relaxed and has a hard time moving backwards if I try to pin my shoulder blades together, and I can do light weight low back rows, curls and triceps push downs with zero effect.

Amazingly, I have an appointment in the morning, so we’ll see what they say.